Johnson: 'Preseason polls never meant squat to me'

In Part 3 of Bobby Johnson's July 27 question-and-answer session at SEC Media Days, the Vandy head coach answered questions regarding a host of topics including disciplinary problems in college football... the importance of the South Carolina opener... and the plans for utilizing true freshman quarterback Chris Nickson. (Part 3 of 3)


To read part 1 of this 3-part interview, click here.
To read part 2 of this interview, click here.

Q: Coach, a couple of coaches have already talked about how being able to spend more time with the players during the off-season would cut down on some of the disciplinary problems. What are your thoughts on what more coaches can do to avoid their players getting into trouble?

A: It may, and it may not. I don't think anybody can predict that. You talk about more time with them... unless you want to go downtown with them at midnight and stay out as late as they do, I don't know if you can stop them, at least some of the things they do. To me, more important exposure you have to your players is your Guidance and Academic Affairs... making sure they're going to class, and if they need a tutor, get them one. Don't get a tutor just to avoid a D or an F... get a tutor so you can make an A instead of a B. You know, all the things that good adult supervision does for a teenage or early-20's young man. I mean, that's kind of obvious. You can make an influence on them, and hopefully it's positive.

Q: Justin Geisinger didn't get mentioned on the preseason All-SEC teams picked selected by the coaches. Do you feel like that was a slight? And how does Justin stack up with some of the great tackles you've coached and been around?

A: Well, there are a lot of good players in the SEC, and it's impossible for the coaches to pick the right guy for every position in a preseason poll. I think Justin has a lot of respect in this league, and rightly so. I think he's an outstanding player. He's big-- he's 6-4, weighs 325 pounds, and can bench-press 600 pounds. He's got quickness, he's got desire. He's everything that we could possibly want in an offensive tackle. And the main thing Justin's got is pride. He wants to do his job as good as he can possibly do it, as good as anybody in the league. So, does he stack up with all those other guys who were mentioned? Yes. I think so. Is that a big slight that he didn't get mentioned? I don't think so. I don't think Justin's worried about it. I know those other players are very good, and preseason polls have never meant squat to me.

Q: Coach, with so many returning starters coming back, do you and the coaching staff pride yourselves on maybe being able to turn some ownership of practices over to your players, and hopefully they will be able to teach your younger players, more so than depending on the coaches like you've had to do over the last couple of years?

A: No doubt about it. Our best teaches of our younger players are our older players. When you have that, it allows you to move ahead a little faster in your installation of your offense or defense. Or, if you want to try to move on to some new things, while you're teaching it to your older guys, those younger guys who are waiting in line, those older guys can teach it to them. It's a big, big help.

As far as ownership, we want people to encourage young guys. We want them to give tips. We don't want them to judge how well our younger guys are playing, or trying to be critical of them. So it's a very fine line sometimes when we say, hey, you coach this younger guy. Sometimes you can discourage a younger guy.

Q: Bobby, a lot of people in South Carolina are really pointing to this opener (South Carolina at Vanderbilt, Sept. 4) as a big game. With what your program's gone through, and a lot more expectations this year, is this pretty critical too for you guys too in terms of getting some momentum going?

A: Yeah, I think that's a pretty true statement. Obviously we need to get off to a good start. I think South Carolina needs it, because they came off a disappointing loss to Clemson. So it's going to be a big game, and I think both teams realize that. The fact that it is the first game, most everybody's attention is going to be on that game. I don't think it's going to be a problem getting everybody interested in that game. They know the importance of it.
A cell phone in the audience goes off.
Is that Phil? Laughter. He wanted a report.... nah, just kidding.
But obviously everybody knows the importance of that game, especially the two teams involved. I can't sit up here and downplay it. It is an important game.

Q: Coach, hopefully I can set you up for another one. Laughter. Vanderbilt doesn't play very often in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. As far as I know you've never coached there. Is there any sense of excitement in your program about having that game there?

A: YESSS. In fact, I've heard so much about the atmosphere over there. Fortunately for us, we'll be down on the field. I've heard our fans may not fare too well down there, but we'll be down on the field, at least going against the LSU players. But you've got to realize, what a great statement for college football, that 90,000, however many they're getting down there, can get that rabid about a college football game. I think our players ought to be excited about playing against the defending national champions, in their stadium with that kind of atmosphere, and everything that's at stake. It ought to be fun... let's don't dread that. Let's look forward to it, and have as much fun as we can possibly have. And you never know, if you start playing good.... we'll worry about that when we get there. We're not dreading that game; we're looking forward to it.

Q: Coach, you mentioned your recruiting efforts, and trying to get a few pretty good players, especially from the state of Alabama. Could you speculate about how much Chris Nickson might play this year?

A: I hope Chris Nickson doesn't have to play any. He's a quarterback we recruited from the state of Alabama. But ... Chris Nickson is already our third-string quarterback. He's not gone to class, not had a practice yet, but he's already our third-string quarterback. So we will prepare Chris Nickson to be able to go into a game, and hopefully execute an abridged game plan, if he has to get in there and do it. But the plan is to have him ready just for emergencies, and if we have to play him, we will. But we would love to be able to redshirt him, and have him waiting in the wings when Jay graduates.

Q: Coach, how long does a coach really need and really deserve, to see the fruits of his labors, especially one that had elite status when he arrived? (Ed. Note: this question was presumably asked by a Florida writer.)

A: Oh, about 15 years. Laughter. You talk about arriving at an elite school... well, that could be a different situation. Number one, I've never been to an elite school, to do that. But you can be at an elite school and find the program down in certain areas. I think it's always good for a coach to be able to coach his recruits. And sometimes you are going to find guys, when you get there, they're not as glad to have you there as you are happy to be there. They're used to the old coach, and there's a transition problem. Any time that you have to get your recruits in there and have your players in there, coaching them all the time, I think that should be a very good barometer of when you should be enjoying some success.

Q: Bobby, I know you've only been around the league a couple of years, but the West is always a toss-up. You never know who's going to win. The East has always been those three schools. Do you have any theories on why it's worked out that way the last 12 years?

A: Not a clue. Yeah, I think those three programs you're talking about, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia, have just had such great tradition, and in my opinion, recruiting advantages in that they have such great high school football. They're able to maintain a talent level that most of the other schools have not been able to do. I think that's probably the key to their success or their continued success. Now, I think you will probably see that out of LSU, because Coach [Nick] Saban has gone down there and sort of cornered the market on talent in that state, and that's also a very good football state. You're going to probably see that out of LSU, so you can probably expect that same great level out of their program.

Then the other thing is, those other schools are competing against some very good programs, and it's hard to be a consistent winner unless you are the top dog. Or Gator. Or Vol.

Q: Coach, with the reorganization at Vanderbilt, how has your job changed?

A: None that I can tell, except for the people that I report to. We still have the same goals. The University still has the same goals for me. The organization of my staff has not changed. One good thing, our budget is actually improved, so there are probably some benefits to it. I don't spend a whole lot of time worrying about the reorganization. I'm convinced that our administration is for our football program and our athletic program, and they still want to be top-notch in the SEC. And if you look at our athletic program and see where we were, I think we were in the top ten percent of all schools and their athletic programs. And we don't even offer all the sports that all the other schools offer. So I think our athletics program speaks for itself. What we need to do in my situation is bring the football program up to SEC standards. Then I think you'll find you've got an athletic program that nobody can criticize.


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